Stress is an unavoidable part of life. It’s what you feel when you’re stuck in traffic and late for work, and it’s also that sinking feeling you get when the daily news is full of nothing but tragedy. In some situations, your body’s stress response is actually good for you. Your brain’s release of hormones can be the push you need to achieve a goal or take positive action. But when your brain is stuck in a prolonged state of stress, there will be physical consequences. This is called chronic stress, and countless Americans are feeling its effects right now.
Chronic stress is a serious health issue that is often underestimated. Many people don’t realize that walking around every day feeling anxious, tense, and worried affects the body as much as the mind. The bottom line is, both your physical and mental health depend on getting your stress level under control.
Here are real ways prolonged stress affects the body…
Increased Risk of Heart Disease
When something stressful happens, your brain triggers the release of a hormone called cortisol. The purpose is to increase your heart rate and prepare your muscles to respond with either fight or flight. It works well for short-term situations, but chronic stress is anything but short term. When your heart rate is elevated for hours, or even days, at a time, the heart itself will start to suffer.
Prolonged stress can force the heart to work overtime. This increased strain can lead to cardiovascular abnormalities including a disrupted heartbeat rhythm, high blood pressure, stroke, and an increased risk of heart disease and heart attack. If the body already suffers from chronic health issues, these conditions will worsen with stress.
Body Aches and Pains
Along with increasing your heart rate, cortisol also causes muscles to tense up. This is to prepare the body to take action. But have you ever continually flexed your muscles for more than a few minutes at a time? Feeling stressed on a daily basis affects your muscles and joints by holding them in a constant state of tension. This causes the muscles to feel sore and painful.
For some people, this pain is a dull ache that never seems to go away. For others, it’s spasms of pain that prevent regular movement. It can also cause flare ups of pre-existing conditions including arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Heartburn and Digestive Problems
According to Healthline, a constant stream of stress hormones negatively affects how your body digests food. It causes an increased production of stomach acid which often leads to heartburn and acid reflux. And while stress isn’t a direct cause of stomach ulcers, it can exacerbate an existing condition.
In addition, cortisol can cause digestive muscles to tense and affect how food moves through the body. People who suffer from chronic stress also regularly experience diarrhea, constipation, and stomach aches.
Immune System Vulnerability
There’s a reason why people with stressful lives are also the ones most likely to get sick. In the short-term, cortisol stimulates the immune system to protect the body. This is a good thing if there is an imminent threat, but problems arise when it happens too often.
Chronic stress overworks the immune system to the point of breaking. Too much stimulation causes the immune system to weaken over time, and this leaves the body vulnerable to outside threats. People who suffer from years of chronic stress can’t defend themselves against things like the common cold or flu. They get sick more often and usually take longer to recover.
Acne and Hair Loss
As cortisol levels increase, so does oil production. This extra oil shows itself in the skin and can lead to acne and other irritating skin problems. Even people who generally don’t get acne can develop pimples during stressful life events. Those pimples can then cause more stress to create an endless cycle that’s hard to break.
Along with the skin, hair will also start to show the affects of prolonged stress. It can be greasier than usual, and many people also report their hair falling out when they’re under extreme stress. The body is focused on maintaining other functions, and hair health falls to the wayside. Stress-related hair loss can continue even months after stress levels even out.
Whether it’s related to work, family, or the general state of the world, prolonged stress can have serious and long-term consequences. It has potential to affect nearly every bodily system and can decrease your quality of life. It will always be in your best interest to invest in ways to decrease stress to safeguard your health.